When I was training at the Curious School of Puppetry, the brilliant writer Anna Maria Murphy came to work with us for a few days, and one of the glorious creative titbits she introduced me to was the kenning. We ventured outside to observe the pigeons in a Bethnal Green park, and kennings tumbled out onto the pages of our notebooks.
Over the past few months I’ve been developing a daily writing practice. Looking back on those wonderful days at Curious, I remembered how much fun it had been to play with words in this way with Anna. So when I sat down for my daily dose of writing earlier this week, I thought I’d have a play with some kennings again…
A short extract from a much longer creative writing project I am currently working on, which began life during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2020, and will hopefully become a full-length novel:
She followed the narrow track down to the coastal path, overgrown brambles catching at her ankles on the way. Suddenly the hedgerow opened out and there it was in front of her: the sea. Mighty, intimidating, it always inspired awe. It had shown her who’s boss a fair few times over the past six years, reminding her of the power of this little planet.
The coast path wound away to her left and right. Behind her: thick hedge, in front: nothing but space and water all the way to the horizon. Meg stepped as close to the cliff edge as she dared. The water was calling to her. She wanted to feel its coolness on her skin, so she found the spot where the bank sloped a little shallower and she scrabbled down like a bat.
Taking off her boots, she nestled them against the rocks. The sand was gritty between her toes. The waves broke onto the shore, splaying out foamy fingers across the sand. She walked down to meet them and felt the first chilly touch as the water lapped at her feet. The sea was unsettled today, a southerly wind blowing in across its surface, the peaks and troughs shifting constantly. Meg pulled off her clothes and threw them further up the beach, aiming above the high tide line of wet sand. She turned back to face the water and dived over the crashing wave. Cold enveloped her, the freshness an instant release. She resurfaced a few metres in, past the breaking point.
Bobbing on the surface, she looked back up at the cliff. Was that a figure she saw, standing at the edge? They were watching her. She turned away and dived under, away from the turbulence of the surface, and followed the seabed to deeper waters. Down here: peace.
Some days you love me
Caressing my skin with your silken
Calming my worried soul
Bringing me peace
Some days you torment me
Thrashing my body with your
power, your rage
fuelling my fears of
Why do you push me
You show me wonders
Life circling beneath my feet
Wonders I cannot
You hide them from me
Shroud your secrets
Deny me access
you give me answers
But mostly cold
You're my teacher, my lover, my nemesis, my friend
My dreamy escape
My reality check
The thing I take for granted
Yet when I am far from you
My heart aches for
that there is always a reason
to go on.
I haven’t been in the sea all week. These damn easterlies have shown no let-up, and yesterday’s swell made my stomach turn just to look at it. No clean sets, just a roiling mass of white water hurling seaspray at anyone who dared get near. The wind chill factor hurt.
This must be the first week since last April where I haven’t been in at least once. My body itches and can’t stay in one position for long. My skin feels too soft, a distinct absence of salt. I even bothered to blow-dry my hair the other day.
My fingers and toes are still freezing, but the chilblains on my feet have calmed down. To make up for that, this week I discovered my first ever finger chilblain, during the one week I don’t go in the water. Fancy that. What an exciting life I lead.
Each morning coffee, though oh-so-welcome, just doesn’t feel quite like I’ve earnt it. I bury my nose in its steam and take that first glorious sip, trying to pretend it’s a healing balm to my sea-cold core. But it’s merely a read-through, not the real thing.
The Windy app is my constant companion. I check it like a needy lover, needing more than it can give. Surely if I just will the little arrows to move round to the north they will? I live in constant anticipation of that precious ‘weather window’. There may have been one first thing Wednesday but I slept in. My frustration is suffocating.
In my daydreams I’m treading water, slowly, automatically, looking down at my bootie-clad feet in their watery world. My body immersed, suspended, free. I take a breath and go under, the cold intense and startling me awake. Then, that sacred, brief moment of clarity, completely submerged, my body a part of the ocean and it a part of me, before my buoyancy pushes me back to the surface.
I return to the present and I’m on dry land, watching the storm rage outside my window; not land-locked in the true sense of the word, but I feel like an invisible padlock is holding me captive on the land, so poetically-speaking it fits. As my body shifts restlessly I remember a phrase from a favourite poem, Morning Swim by Maxine Kumin: “My bones drank water”. That’s it, right there: my bones are thirsty.
A long read, written one blustery day two weeks ago…
I didn’t think I would go out today. Despite being shut inside all day, despite this being my one daily permitted chance to get outside during the lockdown, I didn’t fancy it. It was pelting it down out there. Blowing a hooley. I didn’t fancy getting wet.
Just before dinner the rain stopped. The wind blew the dark blanket of clouds on to the next unsuspecting town and left a large patch of heavenly blue. The sun shone down. I ate my dinner.
As I cleared away the dinner plates and rinsed then stacked them in the dishwasher I surveyed the situation outside once more. Iffy would be the word.
Sod it. I grabbed my coat, its pockets stuffed with hand sanitiser and tissues, had an obligatory pre-walk pee, then made for the door and the big wide world beyond.
It was cold. I definitely should have worn a scarf. I zipped my coat right up under my chin and set off up the hill at a pace that meant business.
But as I ducked under a branch and stomped into the first patch of woodland I felt something inside relax. I smiled up at the trees standing there in their usual spots. Hello old friends. The wind whipped their new leaves up into a frenzy. I glanced down at the twigs scattered about my feet and issued a silent prayer to the trees to wait until I’d passed from underneath before they released the next batch to the wind.
Further along, the path of earth and gravel became soft and squelchy underfoot. I tramped onwards, glad for a decent pair of boots. The robin and blackbird sang high above as I passed. The songthrush played its impressive vocal repertoire then paused when it noticed me standing there in breath-held awe. Listening to this bird’s vocal acrobatics never fails to fill me with delight.
I passed through patches of bluebells amongst the field maples, stopping to say hello to a man and his terrier from a safe 2-metre distance. I remembered my new naturalist app on my phone and opened it up, photographing different leaves here and there to see if I could add any new species to my ‘observations’ collection.
When I reached the Point the restless sea stretched out before me. I turned to face the castle up on the hill and my breath caught at the beauty of the sky on fire, its flames silhouetting the familiar keep.
Crossing to the lookout point to get a better shot, the full force of the wind rushed at me and nearly knocked me off my feet. I managed a few minutes of staring out at the waves in exhilaration before I bowed out, breathless and bedraggled, and turned for home.
I took the moat walk back, hoping the ditch would offer some shelter from the wind and approaching rain. Leaves of different shapes and sizes whirled around in the air, some landing at my feet, others being carried off up over the castle grounds. The moaning of the wind through Half Moon Battery made me quicken my pace a little.
Up on the road leading to the castle I said goodnight to the trees dancing either side of me as I walked down the hill. One last look at the sea, its rows of white-tipped waves rolling in, then I turned away and carried on down the street towards the flat.
There had been a brief spell of rain, a whole lot of wind, and, as with every walk I take around Pendennis Headland, a good dose of magic. A walk is always worth it.